Interview with Jules Brand from A Kiss for Luck

Hello! And thanks for joining me today. I have a real treat, an interview with the ever elusive conman, Jules Brand. He gets up to some trouble and dances with Lady Luck, so I was pleased to get him to join me here. You can read about some of his adventures in A Kiss for Luck. Let’s get started.

Welcome Jules, to my little hideout. Or would you prefer to go by a different name?

You, my beauty, can call me whatever you like.

 

Tell me a little about yourself. I know you keep busy with your “jobs” and your rules. What’s with the rules anyway?

When I was young and just starting out, a gorgeous woman named Delia London taught me the Rules of the Game. I’ve expanded them since then, to cover scenarios that Delia couldn’t foresee.

 

You work in a dangerous “profession,” so tell me why you’re more of a lover than a fighter.

Because blood stains silk, darling. And honey makes a much better trap than vinegar.

 

What did you really think of Stanzi when you first met her?

That she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Oh, you want the truth? Well, she is beautiful. When I first saw her, I was certain my Luck was about to change. And when we met, I knew I was going to have a lot of fun.

 

What was special about Stanzi compared to your other marks?

At first, nothing. When I learned she was Delia’s niece, that explained my attraction. It was the way she approached life, with equal parts innocence and ferocity, that made my world spin.

 

If you could, what’s one thing you would want everyone to know about you?

That I’m completely trustworthy, of course.

 

Since this is the scoop on you, what’s one secret you can share with me?

With you, darling, I would share the world.

 

What’s your biggest regret?

*checks Patek Philippe watch* Looks like we’re running short on time. Let’s move ahead, shall we?

 

I know Luck is everything to you. Can you explain Luck for us?

*fingers pendant* Ah, Lady Luck. As seductive as any lover, and more capricious than a spring day. To lay in the arms of Luck is worth any price she demands.

 

What’s your favorite drink?

Champagne, of course. Is there anything else?

 

What would an ideal evening be for you?

Whatever you desire. My only wish is to please you.

 

Leave us with your parting thoughts before you sneak away to your next job.

I never sneak. But Europe has grown tiresome. It’s time to catch up with some old friends in the States. I hear New York is nice this time of year.

 

Thanks for joining us. I know you’re used to fancier hide outs, so I’m honored you joined us here. Check out Jules Brand and his adventures in A Kiss for Luck by Isa McLaren. This lighthearted crime story is sure to delight you as Stanzi (more ordinarily called Connie) and Jules find themselves in the crosshairs of Jules’s last mark and it takes all their wits to escape with their lives. Here’s the blurb:

When Connie Munro gets a sudden inheritance, she takes her dream vacation to Italy. On a whim, she kisses a stranger on the famous Ponte Vecchio. When her toes uncurl, she finds herself in a whirlwind fling.

Jules Brand is down on his luck. A con job gone wrong lead to a murder, with him as the prime suspect. He returns to his good luck city, Florence, to turn things around.  When Connie asks him for a kiss, he knows his luck has changed.

But Luck is a capricious mistress and Hagen Geier is bent on revenge. When Brand’s past catches up to him, Connie is caught in the cross-fire. She must rely on the charming con artist to get her out of it. She wouldn’t trust him with her purse, but what about her life?

You can grab this thrilling tale at https://threefuriespress.com/products/a-kiss-for-luck-by-isa-mclaren-ebook or in paperback at https://threefuriespress.com/products/a-kiss-for-luck-by-isa-mclaren-book today!

 

Isa McLaren enjoys casing museums and luxury condos in her free time. She resides in hot, humid North Carolina with her two burglar cats, John Archibald Dortmunder and Bernie Rhodenbarr. When not trying to ditch a tail, she can be found crafting the perfect cocktail for any occasion. A Kiss for Luck is the first book in her Art of Lying series, starring the charming con artist, Jules Brand.

Here’s where you can find Isa McLaren online

blog: authorisamclaren.com

Twitter: @IWMcLaren

FB: https://www.facebook.com/IsaMcLarenAuthor/

Thanks again and happy conning!

Julia

Tips to Write Like a Pro

So a couple of months ago I attended another writer’s conference in my area. I’ve meant to share some of what I’ve learned with all of you, so that’s on the agenda for today. One speaker, Brian A. Klems, talked about some tips to write like the pros. I won’t go over all of them with you, since we’ve talked about some of them already. But I will go over some of the ones that stood out to me along with my thoughts about them.

Don’t just open with action, open with conflict

Get your readers hooked from sentence one and sympathizing with your character. And action doesn’t just mean a car chase or an explosion. But the character shouldn’t just be sitting around and thinking. Move the plot forward from the beginning towards the inciting incident and the rest of the story.

Speaking of the inciting incident, it is crucial to your story

It is the impetus to the rest of the story and builds to the climax. For a good example of what an inciting incident is, let’s look at the Hunger Games. The inciting incident occurs when Katniss’s sister is picked for the Reaping and Katniss volunteers to go in her place. The rest of the story couldn’t happen without this event and it sets up the conflict for the rest of the story. The inciting incident isn’t the same as your hook. Your hook is what starts your story and pulls the reader in and gets them asking questions. The inciting incident comes after, unless you are using the Fichtean Curve as your story structure.

Don’t include too many adjectives and adverbs

These don’t work as well as strong verbs and concrete nouns. And adjectives can often be vague. Pretty doesn’t tell us anything about what she actually looks like. And don’t use things like ran quickly, use sprinted, dashed, or raced. Stronger verbs are always better than adverbs.

Avoid passive voice

Passive voice is where the object of the sentence becomes the subject. So instead of “Bob threw the ball,” we have “The ball was thrown by Bob.” If you’re unsure whether a sentence is passive or not, see if you can add “by zombies” at the end of the sentence. If it makes sense, it’s passive and should be changed to active voice. Active voice is easier to read and much more immersive.

Hooks aren’t just for the beginning of your story

Keep raising questions for the reader in each chapter to keep those pages turning.

Characters are a priority and should be complex

Each main character should be unique and memorable. All characters, even the minor ones, need three things; a goal, a flaw, and motivations driving them. This will make your characters well-rounded and drive the plot forwards while creating tension. After all, goals conflict between characters. And without conflict, you don’t have a story. Flaws are important to make your characters relatable and believable to the reader. This is crucial and a good step towards getting your reader to care about your characters.

Watch your verb tenses

Don’t switch back and forth between present and past tense, for example. It’s jarring for the reader and should be something you catch in editing. The same applies to POV. Don’t switch from first to third, unless it’s intentional, such as when writing journal entries versus exposition.

Stay consistent

If you use the Oxford comma, use it each time. If you spell it grey instead of gray, stick to it. If you use OK instead of okay, keep to the acronym. Stay consistent.

Those were the tips that really stood out to me that I wanted to share with you. What do you think of these tips? Do they help you progress? Share your comments below and happy writing!

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Writing Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, some of the most iconic characters come from mystery stories. Let’s continue to explore other genres and take a look at mysteries today.

  • Just as with horror, building a suspenseful mood is key to keeping those pages turning. Every description of the setting and more should build up the atmosphere and create a sense of urgency and suspense. Build up the mystery of the situation and the characters.
  • Use red herrings. Red herrings are clues which mislead or distract the reader from who really did it. You don’t want to lie to your reader or break their trust in you, but keep them guessing who-dunnit ‘til the very end. Red herrings help to build tension and make your story a page turner. Whether this is a suspicious character, an object that seems to have a lot of significance, or a clue planted deliberately to lead everyone down the wrong trail, red herrings add to your mystery.
  • Stay away from convoluted plots. Your reader should be asking questions, but one of these questions shouldn’t be “really?” Unexpected thing can happen, but make sure your story is believable on a basic level and real to your reader. Oftentimes, simple is best when it comes to plotting. Don’t lose your reader by going over the top.
  • Focus on the ending and make it satisfying. You want to give your reader an a-ha moment when you finally reveal who did it and why. The tension, suspense, and mood of the story all builds to the big ending, so don’t disappoint with a lackluster reveal or a predictable outcome. Use red herrings to your advantage to keep your readers guessing all the way to the end.
  • Build great characters. Good writing is built with great characters. They bring your story world to life. You want a sleuth to be unique and relatable and your supporting characters to defy stereotypes and clichés. Make them fully fleshed-out and intriguing. And make them stand out. Don’t just write another Sherlock Holmes. Make your characters new and original.
  • Plant your clues throughout your story to truly make your ending satisfying. Maybe there are even clues your sleuth didn’t pick up on at first. Maybe they were focused on the red herrings instead.
  • Avoid clichés. This could be anything from a thunderstorm to set the mood to an overdone character to ten people locked in a mansion. Be original and make the story truly yours.

What are your tips for writing mysteries? Share below and happy sleuthing!

Julia

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What to Consider for Supporting Characters

Besides the protagonist, several other characters feature in our stories, as they should. What would our tale be without the antagonist? Certainly it would fall flat with no conflict. But supporting characters can be complicated. For instance, how do we know when to give one a sub plot or a story arc? How do we recognize other major players? Maybe they’re a viewpoint character that features a POV from their perspective. Either way they get page time either along with or separate from the protagonist. Most importantly, their goals and actions affect the plot and move the story forward.

So what do these major players need? First, they must have a goal, a desire to work towards. Give them a goal and a plan of action for getting it. Of course you need conflict though, so they won’t all be getting their way. Still you need to figure out what they want and why. (You won’t necessarily need to know the why for minor characters, but you will for these guys). A lot of these goals will be in conflict with the protagonist and that’s a good thing. What motivates these characters? What do they believe in? This is at the heart of why they’re doing what they’re doing. This will beautifully thicken the layers of your characters and make them more complex, so give them a why as well.

On top of goals, your other major characters need to have a flaw. This could come from what they believe that may not be true, but they need a flaw that affects their actions. This could be an inner flaw, likes self-doubt that keeps a character from acting, or an external flaw, like a controlling mother that directs a character’s actions. Both of these flaws affect more than the character who exhibits them.

The next layer of characters you’ll have is your minor characters. These guys get little page time and may not even have speaking roles. But they’re important because they people your world. Without them your stage is empty and deserted and your world is hollow. These are not POV characters, even if they are recurring characters. And they do not get their own sub plots. And yes, at some point we have to stop giving characters backstories. If your minor characters do, use it to write the story but do not include it in the story. Extras just get mentioned by one characteristic as part of the setting, like the boy in the red hat or the old man with the paper. Giving these minor characters too much depth erroneously makes them seem important enough to take note of. Don’t waste your reader’s time. You want your story to be complex, but also concise and clear.

Choosing your major characters will come down to theme as well. Whether it’s as a foil to your protagonist or to show a different aspect of your theme. So if your theme is having self-confidence, one of your major characters might be a cocky jerk who always has to be right. But you never want to overpower your story with even a major character’s arc. The story is about your protagonist at the end of it.

All this should help you navigate the world of supporting characters. How do you choose your other major players? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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Archetypes Versus Stereotypes

Your goal to making characters should be to create real people, not cardboard cutouts. You want characters to feel genuine and fleshed out, not one-dimensional. You also want them to be unique, even when you use an archetype. An archetype is a reoccurring type of character that serves a specific role in your story. So we have the wise, old mentor, or the fool, or the hero. They are familiar characters for us and we know how we should relate to them and understand their roles. However, we don’t want to stray into stereotype territory. Stereotypes fall flat and are full of clichés. For instance if our hero is the “chosen one.” This character is flat and overdone, special through no fault of their own, but just because they were born. But for some reason they’re special and we should pay attention to everything they do. This has been done too many times.

So how do we avoid creating stereotypes? By making our characters three-dimensional. Every character must have a goal to work towards and a flaw to make them human and relatable. No one is perfect, not even our hero, and it’s important to reflect that in our stories. Look at your character’s list of personality traits. Are they unique or overdone? Is your villain a black-eyed devil who dresses in all black and laughs maniacally? What if instead of just being evil he was driven by his mother’s tragic death at the hand of the king’s main advisor? Give him a motivation. Make him interesting. And stay away from black clothes and a maniacal laugh.

Make each character an individual. They should all have different defining characteristics just like in real life. No two people are the same. Give them a quirk. Maybe they always tell bad jokes or they only wear the color yellow. What makes them an individual?

Choose the unexpected. Instead of the orphan boy being the chosen one, make your hero the girl from a family of nine. How can you make your mentor different from the wise old man? Use the archetypes in new ways and delight your readers. Make your characters a refreshing change from the usual.

What are your favorite archetypes and how do you make them new? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

How to Add a Romantic Subplot

If your story is lacking depth and layers you may need to add a subplot or two to it. What is a subplot? A subplot is a smaller plot line that works alongside your main plot line. The most common subplot is the romantic subplot or love interest. But this subplot should add dimensionality to your story. So how do we go about that?

To write a good love subplot it first has to be believable. It’s all about the characters and how they react to each other. Would these two people fall in love in real life? Is there any chemistry between them or are you as an author forcing them together? How do they get from introduction to real romantic feelings? Show their natural progression and their emotional journey. Remember that this is a subplot (unless you are writing a romance) so you don’t want to devote too much page time to this. A few impactful scenes is enough.

No relationship is perfect. There will be and should be obstacles to their love. Obstacles should be both external and internal. Does he have a character flaw that’s preventing him from opening up to her? Do her parents oppose the match? Give them problems and show them dealing with them.

Make sure both characters are fully fleshed out and dynamic. Meaning they have a goal, have agency, and react to what happens in the plot. You don’t want the love interest to exist just to be the love interest and you don’t want them to be a cardboard cutout. Develop both of them and have them affect your main plot.

Make them friends first. This goes along with the natural progression of the relationship but also helps keep readers from getting fed up with romantic scenes. Your two characters won’t always be making out or being sickly sweet to each other as they profess their feelings. Have them do normal stuff and acting as the friends they should be as well. They should like each other as much as they love each other.

Watch for clichés. Be well read to keep up with what’s commonly used as a romantic trope and what is overdone. Don’t let the love interest fix every problem the protagonist has. Real relationships don’t work this way and it’s boring as well as unrealistic. Also, make sure your characters don’t turn into completely different people around each other. They shouldn’t have to change to be together. And give them reasons to be together besides looks. Make their relationship genuine.

That should give you a good idea for how love subplots work. What are your tips for writing a romantic subplot? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration and find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

On Strong Female Characters

Today I wanted to talk about female characters and more specifically how to write strong female characters. Now strong female characters have warped into their own cliché and stereotyped forms of the kick-ass heroine who would rather knock you out than talk to you. So how do we give strength to our female characters without the stereotypes? Let’s take a look.

Key elements

  • Write people first and women second. Your character is a human first and foremost.
  • She has to have a goal that affects the plot significantly. She has to have a purpose other than being the love interest.
  • She is flawed and complex. Humans aren’t perfect and neither should our characters be, no matter how strong they are.
  • She has a dynamic arc, meaning she changes and grows as a character from beginning to end.
  • She has agency. Things don’t just happen to her, she makes decisions for herself that drive the plot forward.

One misconception people have about strong female characters is that strong equals masculine. But strong isn’t just about fighting and keeping up with the boys. Your strong female doesn’t have to hate all things girly. Liking girly things doesn’t make her weak. And making her super good at “guy” stuff for no reason doesn’t make her strong either. There are different types of strong from the physical to cleverness to being a good leader to strong communication skills. Value her strengths over her beauty and use different types of strength to empower your female characters.

Don’t turn her into any object, sexual or otherwise. She should never be the prize for any character to win and most strong women are not overtly sexual in order to manipulate others. And what is she like when she isn’t kicking ass? Don’t forget to give her a personality to go along with all those “strong female” characteristics. Stay away from the clichéd troubled past that makes her closed off and a jerk until she learns how to let people in. We want our characters to be relatable so make sure they’re not a jerk who people somehow still like and put up with. And strong women can and do cry. Emotional strength isn’t about never crying. She’s a human, not a robot.

Stay away from stereotypes and clichés when writing truly strong female characters and remember strength comes in many forms. What stereotypes of strong female characters do you hate? Did I miss anything crucial in building a strong female character? Let me know in the comments below and happy writing.

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.